Monday, June 13, 2005

1st Guest Blog: My Dad!

Tonight I am proud to post an account my dad wrote about a very interesting excursion in which he recently participated. Before we begin, you should read about his heart surgery earlier this year, and realize we're only talking 4 months ago. My dad is a rock star. And also, it was kind of spooky how as I read this story, I recognized EXACTLY what I would have been thinking/feeling in the same situation. Genetics, I suppose? Enjoy!

The Bike Ride
June 2005
by Jessie's Girl's Dad

I recovered well from heart surgery in February and by June had worked out enough on a bicycle that I wanted to do one of those long rides with a group. But I knew I could never keep up with the more serious bikers. Then I read a newspaper article about an older group. The article said the members were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and liked to ride at a more leisurely pace, to smell the roses along the way. Sounded like my deal, so I gave them a call.

Yesterday I showed up for my first ride with this older group. (Only one or two were younger than I, at 66.) But I got there late; first mistake. Wasn’t exactly my fault. I had been told to be there at 8:00 a.m., but that was their planned departure time.

So I drove into the parking lot on the dot (28.6 miles from home!) and there they all were, seated on their bikes, cars all locked up, and obviously ready to roll. Nevertheless, introductions were made and they were extremely polite, as I stammered to apologize. With all eyes watching (nine sets) I popped the trunk on my sedan and struggled to remove my bicycle. Could get it in there only by folding the back seats forward and removing the front bicycle wheel. I was intrigued by the way the wheel came off with just the flip of a little lever. Had never had it off before this morning. Turns out I was the only guy there without either an SUV, a pickup truck, or a bike rack for transport. But no matter.

I struggled to replace the front wheel, forcing the brake pads over it and tearing some of the whitewall. Quickly, found my helmet, took off the warm up pants, etc. They were ever so patient and nice, but I noticed some strange expressions aimed at my bike. So I looked at theirs. NONE of their bikes looked ANYTHING like mine. One guy had some kind of weird seat that looked like two black lily pads atop a forked post.

Then there were the helmets. Theirs were all exactly alike, but for colors. Mine was different, pointed in back like an alien’s and had some guy’s name written on the side. And I was the only man or girl there wearing a T-shirt. They each wore some kind of brightly colored shirt which looked as if it would let air right through and some had special pockets sewed onto the backs. At least I had bought real bicycle shorts, which all the rest wore, also. Oh, well; ready to roll. They told me to ride wherever I wished in the group.

As we departed the parking lot (about 10 revolutions of wheel), my derailleur malfunctioned and the pedals jammed. (Only recently had I learned the proper name of the mechanism; it had been the “gear changer thing.”) Everyone politely stopped (albeit staring) as I struggled to free the chain and I did in about 30 seconds, getting oil all over my bare hands. At last, go for the open road and a slow, fun ride!

It was not to be. They had said they ride slower than other clubs. They lied. You could almost taste the competition as we rolled away. Only the designated leader’s position was secure, as was the last person’s (called a “sweep,” I would learn). They pedaled away effortlessly and grimly on their high-tech bikes. I did not care about position; I just struggled to stay somewhere, anywhere, in the group. We were doing at least 15 mph; I had been training at about 12 mph and eight or ten miles at a time. I thought we were going for 25 miles or so today. I was wrong.

We went single file down the narrow shoulder of a country road with huge trucks and cars streaming by us, about three feet to our left. I was able to keep up just fine, and did not even have any problems with breath, except when the trucks sucked it out of my lungs with their backwash. They darned near blew me over. But I was settling into the work and getting along well when, from somewhere behind me, came a deafening whistle blast! What now, I thought. ’Way up ahead, the leader halted and everyone pulled far off the shoulder. As I did the same, the whistle-blower came up beside me and said, “You are getting a flat rear tire.”

It was true. I was so embarrassed. We had not gone a mile. Three of the men stayed to help; the others went on a short distance where they would wait in a safe place. It would have to be a rear tire. But I was proud of myself. I had packed all the ingredients for repair (I thought) into a “saddlebag” (my name; I bet it is not the correct one).

They stared silently as I pulled out a wrench almost a foot long with which to unbolt the rear wheel. I glanced at their bikes: all had quick releases on BOTH wheels; mine only on the front! Still, they did not complain. But I received very polite, helpful hints. “Haven’t seen pedals like that on a bike in years.” “If you ride much on hills, you might consider a different bike.” What do you mean, I inquired, the weight or the gears? “Both.” I was proud of my ten gears. Seems I needed to have 18. “How long have you had this bike?” About five or six years; bought it in a garage sale. Immediately I wished I had not added the last part.

My bike probably weighed almost twice as much as some of theirs. A good one could be had for as little as $1,100.00, I was told. “No problem,” I responded weakly. (I paid $75.00 for mine.) The wheel came off and I began to force it through the brake pads, as I had forced the front wheel earlier. One man stopped me; he showed me how to punch out a little disc with a screwdriver and the pads would fully spread to pass the tire. Got to remember that. As we started to pull out the ruined tire tube, I proudly produced the special little plastic tool I had bought at a bike shop. I could tell this pleased them. Until they asked for the others. “Others? I need more than one?” When I bought the thing at the bike store, they sold me three-for-one identicals, but I thought the other tools were extras and packed only one. Seems you are supposed to use three. But someone else produced what we needed and we continued the change as cars and trucks sped by and showered us with dust.

“Do you have a pump?” Well, no, but I bought one of these little CO2 cartridge inflator devices. Now I got my first frown. You see, you cannot partially inflate the tube to properly seat it, with one of those things. One of the guys produced a small hand pump from some hidden recess on his bike. Then they made me run my fingers all around the inside of the wheel to find the problem that caused the leak. I could not find it, but they did. They also informed me that my tire stem had been mounted in the wrong position in respect to the tire. And that I badly needed new tires. And that I should always carry TWO spare tubes, not just the one that I was so glad I had purchased and packed. (They did not approve of the brand of tube, either.) But they were still polite and helpful and we got the job done.

So off again. Like a house on fire. No leisurely ride here. Perhaps they were frustrated by the delays. I quickly learned that I was the weakest rider, probably because of my unbelievably heavy, low-tech bike. They even wore special shoes that locked onto their strange-looking pedals! My New Balances for running really stood out in the crowd. We turned off the well-traveled road and at last could ride abreast and chat among ourselves. If you could keep up.

I next learned that the next weakest rider was an 82-year-old woman (she told me), and I tried to stay beside or right behind her. I could, except on some hills. I struggled to shift my gears with the two vertical levers on the handlebars, clanking and clashing. Everyone else just pushed buttons to noiselessly change gears, without moving their hands on the bars! Some gearshifts were even electronic! The lady told me that I looked like some kind of speed demon in my helmet. What kind was it? I did not know; my wife bought it for me in some bike shop for my birthday; and looks are deceiving, aren’t they? In her polite conversation, she offered that I could find good biker shirts in Oshman’s.

I was not in bad shape, but these people were true athletes. My stomach barely bulged under my new biker shorts and weighed only about four pounds; their stomachs were non-existent. One old gentleman was 84 and he was in the lead pack the whole time!

We pedaled on, some of us rather grimly. No time to smell the roses here, had there been any. There were only farm fields and an occasional house with barking dogs and a few cows. This was serious business.

At one of the hourly rest stops in front of a little store, I received more bicycle advice. I would sure get tired of carrying all that weight (of the bike) up hills. I already was. A store customer asked if anyone wanted to buy a used Peugeot, and someone sent him over to talk to me. I took his phone number. I was advised to eat and drink a lot, during these breaks, but I did not. I did sip on my brand-new water bottle whose carrier I had mounted on my bike only last night, hoping that I placed it properly. I had. Except that everyone else had at least two bottles on their bikes.

Never did I become very tired, but just took the hills slower than everyone else. Gradually, I evolved to next-to-last, with the little old lady usually just ahead. The sweep position was quietly rotated among the riders, because I am sure it was boring to ride at the end to watch me struggle. It was especially humiliating to see those three ladies, some older than I, effortlessly shepherd me along. One of the rotating sweeps suggested that I would do better with padded bicycle gloves; then my arms would not go to sleep. (How did she know mine were numb?) But I cannot stress enough how nice they all were about all the imposition.

I was surprised when the leader doubled back to me and announced we had only about four more miles to go, and that we had already traveled over 28. Twenty-eight! Are you sure? He actually had an odometer on his bicycle! Would I be OK to pedal on in? Of course, I said. I must have looked worse than I felt.

Everyone sprinted for the finish, except for the 82-year-old lady, me behind her, and the patient sweep. The next-to-last hill was the worst we encountered. I went to my lowest gear (I am pretty sure it was) but about halfway up, I had to get off and walk. No shame in that, the sweep assured me as he rode on by, and then doubled back. I mounted again at the top of the hill and quickly caught up. One more little hill, and we were within one-half mile of the finish. No sweat! I did not even need all the gears. But about halfway up the hill, disaster struck.

BOTH my thigh muscles massively cramped at the same time! It was instant agony! I managed to coast onto the wide, grassy shoulder and get my feet on the ground, both legs now stiff as boards, and struggled not to fall over! I just stood there. I could not move nor extricate myself from the bicycle. The sweep arrived instantly and I told him I was cramped in both legs; he asked what he could do. I asked him to hold the bike and I just stood there in pain, trying to figure out how to get off the thing. I was able to lift my left leg a little and asked him to swing it over the bike; he did, very painfully. Then he grabbed my armpits from behind and allowed me to fall backward to a sitting position. I was still cramped!

That nice little 82-year-old lady doubled back to see if she could help. I assured them I was OK but for the cramps; she rode ahead to tell the others. Then one of the very pretty female riders came whizzing back at about 80 mph, sized us up, and then took off for the finish. One of my legs came loose, but I bet it was a full six or eight minutes before the other leg finally loosened. Felt like it, anyway.

So now I could stand, and told them I would ride on in. No way would they hear of it. Here came the pretty girl in her pickup. She and the sweep dumped my bike in the truck bed and insisted I climb into the passenger seat. Talk about humiliation.

Now she looked at me closely. “You are going into heat exhaustion,” she announced, “and we need to replace your electrolytes.” (What the hell is an electrolyte?)

Well, no, I don’t think so; I just cramped.

“Where is your Gatorade?” she demanded. Well, I don’t actually have any. “I saw your bottle; was it water?” Yes, and I drank all of it. “You always need at least two bottles, one of Gatorade and one of water. And you should consider a camel-pack.” Seeing my puzzled look, she correctly surmised I had no idea what she was talking about. She reached behind my seat and produced some kind of nylon backpack deal that probably held two quarts of water, to show me what it was. Then she produced the Gatorade bottle she had carried on her bike and ordered me to drink all the remnants. Now! I complied. Then she chewed me out for wearing a cotton T-shirt. One must wear a special biker’s shirt, else one will overheat. Then she gave me a water bottle and told me to drink that. I did, and now we arrived at the parking lot, where the group members were all gathered in concern.

I was pronounced “recovered” and agreed to join all for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. But I could not eat a thing. Just drank gallons of lemonade. Lunch discussion was mainly about how many calories were contained in the Chinese dishes and how many we had just burned off during the ride. The 84-year-old gentleman produced miniature bottles of Scotch whiskey, the kind you get on airliners, from his biker shirt special pockets, and proceeded to drink them with his meal, chased by water. I secretly hoped he would offer one to me, but did not know this group well enough to ask. And out came their logbooks. Logbooks! To keep track of their bicycle miles! They began to busily write entries! I used to fly, and we had logbooks for flight time. But bicycle logbooks? Apparently, I had entered another world.

But it would be easy for me to get out of it. I let them know over lunch that I realized that I obviously needed more training; no one argued. I told them I would call them again after more conditioning. Fat chance. One guy offered that I should work up to at least 20 miles at a time. And he spoke yet another gentle suggestion that perhaps I should upgrade my equipment.

They were quite nice to put up with me. But I just do not share their fanaticism, however polite. My body could (eventually) take it, but not my mind. I will stick to running.

--by the father of the girl of Jessie.


Crazy MomCat said...

This was great! Thank your Dad for posting it!

I COMPLETELY related to his experience and feeling like he knew nothing about the new world he'd entered. When I started my running group, it was the same way. They'd mention special fabrics you should wear, how to avoid "chafing" and special drinks and footware. Everyone around me nodded and I felt like I needed my laptop, just to take notes!

I ended up sticking with it, incorporating a few of their "must buy" items like shoes, but I made it through in my cotton t-shirts and "chaff-worthy" shorts.

Tell your Dad to hang in there. It's AWESOME that he's out there trying after heart surgery. I wish my Dad would take charge of his health like that!

Babs said...

Wow. Your Dad is an EXCELLENT writer! I could read a whole book of stories like this!

BTW, I had a similar riding experience... where I dared to take my heavy mountain bike out with a bunch of road bikes. I was miserable. Halfway thru the ride, the leader suggested that I take a shortcut and head back to the starting point by myself. I'm WAY impressed that your Dad made it thru the whole 28 miles!

sarah said...

Wow, I am thoroughly impressed with your Dad's determination. I probably would have gone back to my car after getting a flat tire.

As for getting yourself into things without being prepared, I signed up for a caving class about two years ago. I envisioned myself rappeling down cavern walls and exploring underground rivers. Little did I know that I was actually in a tunneling class. After spending the good part of a Saturday afternoon staring at the feet of the person in front of me as we wriggled through a tunnel on our bellies, I had had enough. It sucked. Plus, I now know exactly how claustrophobic I am.